I went on my first Swiss hike Saturday morning. And I liked it.
Hiking in Switzerland is something of an obsession. Young people do it. Older people do it. Seeing someone 20 years older than I am moving up a steep grade at a high altitude is, I must say, quite impressive. And they do it in all kinds of weather.
The Swiss football team finished third in the World Cup this year, and Swiss hockey players are beginning to be noticed in the NHL, but hiking enjoys a place in Swiss life that nothing else can match.
I thought it was time for me to give it a go.
I think I liked my first hike because hiking takes advantage of my strengths – endurance, persistence, and a willingness to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what. Hiking – like running, which is another activity I enjoyed for more than 30 years – requires no particular athletic gifts. If you can walk, you can hike.
My first hike was not particularly challenging. I took a train to Zurich very early on Saturday morning, and then a tram ride to the top of a nearby mountain. For the next two and a half hours I walked at what for me is quite a fast pace along a high ridge that lies along Lake Zurich. I took a couple of water breaks along the way but, as with all of the marathons I have run, I kept going while I drank. I occasionally saw benches, but didn’t see the point. I was there to walk, after all, not sit.
The path was well marked and even, I would say, well manicured. Clearly there are people who work hard to maintain the hiking trails around here. I have been told that that’s true throughout Switzerland.
By mid-morning I reached my village, and I was tired, a good and familiar feeling.
A couple of years ago I heard a lecture by a young woman who has hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail several times. She is what is known as a “through walker,” meaning that she covers the entire 2,179.1 miles (3,506.9 kilometers) in a single effort, while most tackle the trail in short distances.
Even though she has written a book about her experience, I was surprised by the lack of spiritual reflection. Her talk covered mostly the cost and logistics and inevitable blisters. I expected more.
As I walked, I thought a lot and noticed things. As with my racing, I monitored my heart rate and kept track of joint and muscle fatigue. But I had time to reflect on the day and the startlingly good gift I have been given to be able to do such a thing.
I prayed too. Mostly my prayer was a thanksgiving for just about everything in my life. But my prayer was also full of Gaza, Syria, Ukraine, and more. I listened for what God might say to me, and I think I may have heard a whisper.
I will have to go again and listen more carefully.